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College of the Atlantic was chartered in 1969 by a small group of local community members and educators who saw in Mount Desert Island a great year-round location for learning. COA admitted its first class in 1972. There were only four full time faculty members that first year — and 32 students. The educational philosophy was clear. COA would be the first college in the US to have, as its primary focus, the relationships between humans and the environment. Learning was going to be active. Together, faculty and students explored the oceans around Mount Desert Island as well as the woods and mountains of Acadia National Park. Together, they studied whales in the Gulf of Maine and discussed the texts of such passionate naturalists as Henry David Thoreau and Rene DuBois. They continued their discussions over coffee in town, and dinner at each other's homes.
Forty years later, the college's focus on exploration and community has not changed. COA's 300 students are matched by 30 faculty members who are continually updating and changing courses to match students' interests and adapt to a changing world. Students are encouraged to explore their passions and challenged to think in new ways.
Often they generate their own courses; nearly twenty percent design their own independent study. As Nell Newman, co-founder of Newman's Own Organics, says of her COA years, "When Pop asked me 'What do you do with a human ecology degree?' I answered him, 'As my student advisor said, human ecologists make their own niche in the world.' To be honest, I wasn't quite sure what that meant at the time, but it is what I feel I have been able to do. My environmental interests go beyond organic food to an awareness of worldwide environmental issues. The foundation for this was laid at College of the Atlantic, where I was given the tools to continue to explore and contribute in my own way."
Tour summer cottages that have been transformed into student residences. Walk through gardens designed by renowned landscape architect Beatrix Farrand. Visit our thriving campus and learn more about our storied history.